Ching Ming Festival is approaching!


Qingming Festival (清明节 or Qīngmíngjié in pīnyīn), also called Tomb Sweeping Day or Pure Brightness Festival, is an important traditional Chinese holiday. The festival is celebrated both in China and among members of Chinese communities around the world. The main activity that people engage in on this day is cleaning the tombs of their ancestors. (1)

The holiday is celebrated 15 days after the Spring Equinox, usually between April 3rd and April 5th. Like many Chinese holidays, its date is calculated using the Chinese lunar calendar. While the date of the holiday changes slightly every year, it generally falls in early April. Tomb Sweeping Day is an official public holiday in mainland China, and people are normally given one day off not counting weekends.

But How did this Festival originate? 

The Qingming Festival grew out of an ancient Chinese festival called 寒食节 (Hánshíjié), generally referred to in English as Hanshi Festival or the Cold Food Festival. The Hanshi Festival itself was originally celebrated to commemorate Jie Zitui, a Chinese nobleman of the Spring and Autumn Period (around 771 BC to 476 BC). Jie Zitui was a loyal follower of Duke Wen of Jin. At one point when the duke was going through hard times, Jie Zitui cut some flesh from his own thigh and cooked it for the duke to keep him from starving.

When Duke Wen eventually came to power years later, he sent for Jie Zitui, who was living a lonely life as a poor man in the woods near Mt. Mian in Shanxi Province. Jie Zitui was uninterested in taking up a place in government, which he saw as corrupt, and so he ignored the summons.

In order to force Jie Zitui to respond, Duke Wen decided to set a forest fire to smoke him out. Unfortunately, however, Jie Zitui and his mother were killed in the fire. Feeling remorseful over Jie Zitui’s untimely death, Duke Wen decreed that the use of fire would be banned for several days to commemorate his sacrifice.

Over the years, this tradition of going without fire, and thus eating cold food, spread through surrounding regions and grew in popularity. Early on, Hanshi Festival was celebrated in winter and could last up to one month in some places.

When it was discovered that eating cold food for an entire month in the dead of winter was causing multiple people to die each year, however, authorities tried to ban the festival, but they were often unsuccessful, and the tradition continued. Eventually, the authorities moved the festival from winter to spring. Over time, its traditions were gradually conflated with those of Qingming Festival. The Hanshi Festival is rarely celebrated as a separate festival today, but it lives on in the tradition of not eating cooked food during Qingming Festival.

What do people do during Qingming Festival?

Qingming Festival is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day in English and this name makes sense considering the fact that tomb sweeping is the most important activity that people engage in on this holiday. In addition to cleaning their ancestors’ tombs and making offerings to the dead, people also go on outings to enjoy nature, fly kites and eat special foods during this time.

Tomb sweeping, or 扫墓 (sǎomù) in Chinese, is seen as a way to show respect to one’s ancestors. The practice is closely connected with Chinese traditions related to filial piety and ancestor worship. Tending to the tombs of one’s ancestors is a very important part of the Qingming holiday but since burial practices in the Chinese countryside are very different from those in the cities, the process of cleaning the ancestors’ tombs is different depending on where one lives.

In the countryside, Chinese tombs have changed very little over the years. Most are not located in a graveyard. Instead, they are often located in an auspicious place with good 风水 fēng shui, usually on the side of a hill or a mountain.

The bodies of the dead are buried in the ground instead of being cremated. Often, all the relatives in one family group will be buried near each other. If a family is not well-off, the tombs may simply be large unmarked mounds of dirt. In wealthier families, there will often be a large earth burial mound with a flat semi-circular area in front of it that has been cemented over.

In the countryside, once the graves are cleared, offerings are usually placed at the foot of the burial mounds or on the semi-circle of cement in front of those graves that have been cemented over.

What is left as an offering varies by family and by region. A typical offering in rural Hunan, for example, might consist of a bowl of rice with chopsticks, a plastic cup of the strong Chinese liquor known as 白酒 (báijiǔ), and a chicken head or other piece of meat.

Once the offering has been placed in front of the tomb, family members set off firecrackers (鞭炮 biānpào) and burn incense (香 xiāng) and paper hell money (冥钞 míngchāo). Firecrackers are now banned in most cities, so on or around the Qingming Festival, relatives of those who are buried in cities may simply visit the graves, burn some incense and leave some flowers.

After paying respect to the ancestors by cleaning their tombs, many people will then spend some time outdoors enjoying nature while participating in spring outings, known as 踏青 (tàqīng). Since Qingming Festival falls in early spring every year, it usually coincides with some of the first warm days of the year. People whose ancestors are buried in the city or those who live in cities and have not had time to travel back to the countryside to visit their ancestors’ graves will often head to a park or other place where they can spend time in nature.

What do people eat during Qing Ming festival?

People traditionally only eat cold food during Qingming Festival. While celebrating the holiday in southern China, people usually eat 青团 (qīngtuán), which are round, sticky and slightly sweet green dumplings made with glutinous rice and either barley grass or Chinese mugwort. The dumplings are often stuffed with some sort of filling such as sweet red bean paste.

In both the north and the south of the country, it is also popular to eat 馓子 (sǎnzi). These are deep fried salty dough twists which are cooked in advance and allowed to cool and dry. Because each crunchy twist is made up of multiple thin strands of dough, each 馓子 (sǎnzi) looks rather like a bunch of spaghetti. They are eaten cold and are often seasoned with sesame seeds.

Stay tuned for other curiosities about Chinese culture!


Thanks to What is Qingming Festival and how is it observed? | Tomb Sweeping Day (

(1) In Italy we also have a day for commemorating the ancestors which is November 2nd. Usually, people bring flowers to their ancestors' tombs in the cemeteries.  

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